The Holocaust and Making Our World a Better Place to Live
In Loving Memory of Charles Pierce
By: J. Marlando
Like such a great many of us living in the 21st century, I never gave much thought to the Second World War or the Holocaust. For one thing I was just a baby when the Germans attacked Poland in 1939, the year of my birth. My major hot wars were Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan with the threatening cold war hanging over everyone’s head most virtually between 1945 and 1991. Anyway, what is slowly happening is that World Wars I and II are slowly being pushed into the archives of history and, if we are not mindful, they are destined to disappear into the realm of mythology just as the Civil War and our old frontier has. We must not permit that to happen.
For one thing, we do not want our children growing up without knowing how truly evil and merciless human beings can be. Why is this? Because we want future generations to start avoiding man’s inhumanity to man instead of supporting it…we want future generations to put a stop to war, torture and unnecessary killings altogether. Indeed, our human choices are all that stand between making a world of challenge and a world of cooperation. War, from before Biblical times, has always been about expansionism, wealth and power although it has been representative in many guises not excluding ideological reasons which have never been the cause of one people warring against another—merely the excuse to turn ordinary people into warriors.
The result for all sides is the same except for those in powerful positions who have remained far behind the lines waiting to collect the rewards of victory. A war led by Moses, according to the Bible, enjoyed the victory stash of 657,000 sheep and goats, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 virgins. The Spanish American War was about expanding markets not about men or freedom; after world war two, the victors split up the world like chips in a poker game and today power and money are still bottom line motivators for cultures to clash in bloodshed. And, the nonsense of calling any war “holy” is to trumpet one’s own ignorance. Even the old Crusades were as self-serving and treacherous as war can get leaving the dead piled up on both sides to unimaginable heights.
Then, in modern times, Adolph Hitler emerged, the poster child for evil itself One of his cruel innovations was the concentration camp.
It wasn’t only Jews imprisoned; tortured and murdered it was also gypsies, Jehovah Witnesses, homosexuals and anyone else who the Nazis decided were sub-human. Millions of people were murdered and cremated during Hitler’s reign. The daily torture is beyond imagination and a friend of mine spent six horrifying years as a Nazi prisoner, somehow surviving to tell the story.
I met Charles Pierce only a few years ago. He was in his later 80s then and had finally agreed to write his story. I was asked to assist him as a professional writer which I did. During that time and the few years that followed before his death (shortly before his 92nd birthday) I became both awed and appreciative of the man; a man who had endured and witnessed more horror than most people can even imagine. The rest of this article will attempt to share this incredible human being and his teachings with you.
A Touch of a True Horror Story
While a great many people occupied the extermination camps as prisoners, the Jews were the concentrated targets of the Nazis. In fact, Nazi propaganda named the attempted Jewish genocide the “Final Solution” to give a positive connotation to their hidden motives, to eventually confiscate the wealth of the Jews along with their belongings, property and so forth. And, Hitler actually had a comic-book’s vision of his own tyrannically ruling the world.
During those six years of work and death camps Charles saw atrocities every day—men, women and children murdered at will; torture and starvation. Here are some photographs of dialy life in those camps:
Indeed, he did not weigh much more than 60 pounds when at long last the war was over and he was saved by the arrival of American tanks.
Charles spent months recovering in the hospital and was finally released on his own volition. He would spend those first months of freedom trying to locate his living brothers and other family members. His own mother and father had been murdered at Auschwitz and a great many of his friends and relatives had also been killed by Nazi aggressions. Eventually, he would end up in the U.S. to start his life over. This was in the later 1940s. In America he would meet and marry the love of his life, Libby, and have children of his own.
Libby & Charles, lovebirds for over a half a century together
It was his son, Mark that introduced us. (If you would like to learn more about Charles I will be telling you how at the end of this narrative).
Before diving into this section, I will remind the reader that the Polish people by and large hated and mistreated the Jews ever as bad as the Nazis did. This is important because Mark, Charles’s son, married a Polish, Christian and to make matters even more ironical, his best man was a blond-haired German. The irony seems blatant on the surface but the twist to the story is far more than this: Charles greeted Mark’s wife and his best man with open arms, heart and mind.
There was no hatred! Charles was above blaming Germans or Poles for what people had done to him years before. There was no revenge or deep seated hatred that crept about in the corridors of his psyche. He had left such feelings by the wayside when he left Europe. He had decided then that he would not carry all the horrors and cruelties with him but leave them in the past that was already gone.
As an aside, I am not sure I could have done that. If a people would have imprisoned me, murdered my parents and other friends and relatives, I think I would carry hate for them forever; I would want them to know the hell that they had given me. And yes, I would have held such grudges against their children and their children’s children but this was not Charles’ way.
Charles had a view that said, “There is freedom in forgiveness”
Charles’ basic philosophy was that you had to do your best in life and you must love people. He raised his children to believe in these values and when, in his later 80s, he decided to go public with his story he shared this audience with his listeners. Here’s one of the letters he received from a member of a school age audience. It’s quite touching.
(Name withheld to assure confidentiality)
Life and Love, something I learned from today's speech. I'm fifteen years old, and I attend Oxnard high school. I've been so indignant for the past couple of weeks. I thought my life was so problematical, and challenging.' I WAS WISHING FOR A MIRACLE TO HAPPEN" I woke up today Mr. Pierce realizing that the only thing that was making my life difficult was myself. You lived through so much chaos, you saw things that the eyes should never see, yet till' this day you stand with the biggest smile I've ever seen. I never realized how important life was till' you came and shared your story, you inspired me to become a better person, you inspired me to look at life as a gift, you showed me the kind of person I want to be, but you also taught me to never let go of what I believe in. I feel greatly honored to have listened to your story... guess what Mr. Pierce " MY MIRACLE HAPPENED."
Charles’ love philosophy was consistent—it did not vary with circumstances or his own moods. He walked a path of love and kindness for others no matter where he went. And no, he did not carry anything on his sleeve nor was there anything holier-than-thou about him. He was just a good man with a good heart and a wise mind who actually lived the ancient wisdom that tells us all to treat others and we would be treated.
When Charles spoke of “loving people” he also spoke of the necessity of putting that love into human action. He taught that the loved object needed to be treated with kindness and caring. He talked about one of his first jobs after coming to America. He worked for the Sharon Hotel a small tourist village near Sharon New York as a busboy and waiter in the restaurant there. During the summer he managed to earn through tips and save $5,000 a hefty sum in 1949. How did he do it—he not only gave each customer service but extra service; he treated everyone as if they were his own customer choosing to love his work. That “love” must have glowed because people responded…generously.
Charles was, in fact, a firm believer in deciding to love whatever work he did no matter how unloving it was. He worked in a bakery for a few years but he did not like the work very much at all yet…he chose to love it; to make it the best it could be and to be the best at it as he could be. This was Charles’ work ethic and it worked in his favor all of his life!
Loving service and sincere customer care was Charles’ secret of success and for a man who had only one thin dime in his pocket when arriving in America. He did not become rich but he did quite well in his life and raised his children in a secure environment.
Charles was simply a man that you would have liked to have known.
Was Charles a perfect human being? Certainly not, he had his faults and frailties just like the rest of us do. Yet, what gave him his uniqueness was his kindness and caring; his ability to forgive and love after being held captive for six years of torture and terror. Incidentally, there is even an irony in this—Dachau was one of the first concentration camps build in Germany in 1938 when the Nazis began arresting German and Austrian Jews and imprisoning them. Dachau was the last camp that Charles had been sent to before his narrow escape to liberation.
It is interesting to me that not too many years ago Steven Spielberg, the famous movie maker, wanted Charles’ story but at that time Charles could still not talk about his holocaust experiences. He had spent years, after all, having terrible nightmares. And, even when he finally did start sharing his story, he often choked up with tears welling in his eyes.
And speaking of Charles’ eyes, I saw him the day before he passed away. He was well aware that this was the end and yet, his old eyes continued to sparkle with love….kindness and forgiveness. I am extremely thankful that I knew him.
If you would like to know more about Charles click below
Charles began telling his story with the hope that all peoples of the world will learn from the atrocities of the Holocaust and stop it from ever happening again. The torture and murder of people in the name of ideologies and even religions are nevertheless occurring every day in our own times.
War, indeed, is still on the main menu of nations and countries world-wide; cultures hating other cultures and greedy self-servers still raising armies for nothing more than the gaining of wealth and power sometimes also known as markets and market controls.
Hitler’s Nazism is well known for causing the most cruel and evil times to ever unfold in world history but certainly they did not have the exclusive on cruelty and evil. Our entire so-called civilization is based on wars upon wars. Is it not time to become a cooperative species; a species of both heart and mind…can we not at least learn this much from the life of Charles Pierce and others who have chosen to walk in love and forgiveness?
I hope you will join their ranks today and perhaps we can start a motion toward creating our world a better, more loving and secure place to be.